THE removal of funding for police visits to schools in Wales will leave children vulnerable to criminal exploitation, it’s been claimed.

The Welsh Government is to axe its contribution to the School Beat Cymru scheme, which sees officers deliver lessons on substance abuse, safety, safeguarding and behaviour.

It said stopping funding for the Wales Police Schools Programme would result in an annual saving of £2m from April and allow it to prioritise frontline services.

However, former North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has criticised the move, claiming it could leave youngsters at risk of being recruited into so-called “county lines” drugs gangs.

He said: “I am very disappointed by the Welsh Government’s decision to stop the Welsh Police School’s Programme after so many successful years.

“The decision goes against both the Welsh Government’s and Welsh policing’s progressive and preventative ethos to intervene early to prevent children and young people being drawn into criminality especially county lines.

“With this poorly thought through decision more children will be exposed to county lines and other forms of criminal exploitation.

“For £2 million the benefits of this programme far outweighs its cost.”

Current North Wales Commissioner Andy Dunbobbin has pledged to keep funding the scheme within the region until July.

However, he said a new funding model would need to be found to keep it going in the long term.

He said:“I understand and appreciate the budgetary constraints that Welsh Government is operating under – which is an issue affecting the whole of the public sector – as well as the concerns that staff and the public have around the future of the programme.

“The plan is then that School Beat will evolve and adapt into a service with a more sustainable funding model.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said the decision to remove funding for the scheme had been taken in light of the NHS and other frontline services facing “the toughest financial pressures in recent history”. They said: “We have worked, and are continuing to work, closely with the police on the impact of the funding changes.”